Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Scratch Building an Island

Specifically USS Long Island:

This might well be obvious from my collection, but I am particularly interested in the early part of the war in the Pacific. The part where it wasn't yet entirely clear who was going to win unless you'd looked at shipyard capacity in the two countries. (Or aircraft factories, or automobile factories. Or steel mills. Or oil refineries. Or . . . never mind.)

Anyway . . .

I'd built a lot of big fleet carriers on all sides, and even a few smaller and earlier British and Japanese carriers, but no U.S. escort carriers. This was an omission I very much wanted to correct.

In particular, I wanted to build AVG-1, USS Long Island. Since she's the inaugural U.S. example of the type, she's pretty significant. Further, Long Island, shuttled many of the first aircraft of the "Cactus Air Force" to Guadalcanal. That alone is more than reason enough to like her. (The Marines surely did.) Yet no one manufactures a commercial model of this ship in 1:2400. A travesty, I say.

So I set about building my own.

At first, I'd considered making the hull from "green stuff" type two part epoxy. This might, I suppose work, but I was only just beginning to explore the stuff then, so I went about it rather the wrong way and chose to use a tried and true ship modeling technique instead.

Balsa wood has gotten a rather bad rap recently, but it still has some significant advantages: It's cheap, it's easy to work with, and it's fairly widely available.

So I used it for my second (and successful) attempt at a hull. I began by cutting a block to the maximum dimensions of the hull and hangar. Next I sketched the most prominent outlines directly onto the top of the block. I then used a razor saw and exacto knife to trim the block back closer to this sketch. I cut angles into the front and back of the block to sugegst the bow and stern and cut and filed a notch between the rear part of the hangar and the fo'c'sle. (I chose to build up the forward portion of the hangar from styrene, since it was quite a bit narrower.) Finally, I used a variety of files and sand paper to clean everything up.

Now that I a hull it was time to start adding superstructure. Long Island is a little different from later escort carriers for a couple of reasons, one of which is patently obvious: the hangar is quite small and doesn't extend forward of roughly amidships. Everything forward of that is quite open. The forward half of the flight deck is supported on open trusswork making her look even older, in some ways, than she really was. I used stock styrene to make the narrower front half of the hangar and all the trusses to support the flight deck. For the hangar walls I used .04" x .08" rectangular strip and for the trusses I used .015" round rods. Both are available from Plastruct. I also made the 5"/38 stern chaser from the same materials. The 3" AA mounts in the bow were made from .01" rod and added later.

The next step was building the flight deck. I chose to make this out of heavy cardstock. To approximate the galleries along the sides I laminated two pieces of cardstock together. The first was slightly narrower than the second, creating a "step" around the edges. Once that was done I made gun tubs and the little stub of an exhaust stack from the strip syrene. I then glued these to the sides of the deck and filed them all back to match. Last, I cleaned everything up, and fixed the deck to the hull.

With the addition of a mast and radar made from more of the .015" rod and some strip squashed up in a pair of pliers (for a sort of "chickenwire" effect) you end up with this:

You might notice a little green stuff on the bow. One of the constant problems with balsa wood is sealing up the rather grainy texture. I first attempted this with the green stuff. When that didn't work quite work I turned to spakle. (DAP walboard joint compound, to be exact.)

The spakle, once dried, worked out fairly well. I was able to sand it down to a relatively nice smooth coat. It could chip, I suppose, but thus far it has not. I figure if it holds up in a wall it should do well enough in a model.

And with some paint and those 3" AA mounts you get this:

Now that I'm comfortable making anchors, anchor chains, and some lighter AA I might eventually go back and add them, but for now, that's not too bad if I do say so myself.

The Composer.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

East and West

Electrons colide at speeds once beyond immagination.
Eyes touch with glints of
Smiles, one subtle almost invisible, and another
Flashing with the power of a
Sudden storm.
Winds blow across an ocean
Tearing at the seals of
Set at times beginning.
Desire gives thought wings and
Hands meet
Slowly with the
Strength of continents adrift.
And where they touch
A bowl of rice sits steaming.

11 December 2010

To Luong Thi Mai Hong


Wood knows the truth of
Growing strong to be bent and
Shaped to other use


To Luong Thi Mai Hong

She smiled at me, bright
Summer sun poured from her eyes.
I knew myself whole.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Painting Princeton

In mid 1942 the US Navy suddenly found itself short of flight decks. (This was going around. Britain and Japan had felt the same squeeze. Something about bombs and torpedoes being particularly hard on ships and sailors.) So we started carving up our half completed ships and turning them into carriers. (You could think of it as kitbashing on 1:1.)

We picked some Cleveland class cruisers for the project and the Independence class light carrier was born.

My first foray into this class was with a Panzerschiffe miniature. They're robust and easy to work with, but rather plain unless you invest some time and effort. I'm a poor man, so my time is cheap and my money is not.

. . . Besides, I very much enjoy converting things.

And it seems so does the fellow that owns Panzerschiffe. When I pulled off the flight deck I was quite surprised to find turrets and the remnants of a superstructure underneath. Looks like his Princeton is quite literally a converted Cleveland. How funny is that?

So anyway . . .

Once I was done adding all the usual bits like masts, radar, and extra gun tubs this is what I had:

You might notice the green bits. I've been experimenting with a technique called "squash casting." It's pretty simple really. Your original has to be one sided and can't have any "negative space" or overhanging spots. You can carve it from styrene, build it up from pieces, or even make it from something like polymer "clay" or "green stuff."

Once you've got that you take a ball of "green stuff" (or clay, sculpey, what have you. Something that can be made to harden), and fix your still workable ball to the end of an appropriate handle. (Dead paintbrushes work well.) Next you wet the original with something that will act as a "mold release." I use water, since I've been using a two part "green stuff" style epoxy. Press the ball that will become your mold straight onto the original and pull it straight back up and let your mold harden. (With the green stuff you just wait.)

Once you've got your mold you press it onto small pieces of similar materials to create positives of the same thing. Repeat ad infinitum and presto! You have as many Borfurs forties as you need.

But I digress. I should continue on to the actual painting. Well, almost. There is some prep you might want to do first.

The pros advocate washing the model to remove any mold release, but I've never found that to be necessary. I also don't bother with a real "primer" coat. I just use a coat of the same craft acrylics I use later for the color coats. (I've become a big believer in craft acrylics. I find the results to be every bit as pleasant as more expensive hobby enamels at a fraction of the price.)

In order to handle small miniatures while painting them I find you have to at least temporarily affix them to some kind of base. If you're going to permanently base your miniature there's no reason this can't be the real base. I don't base my ships, so lightly glue them to a "painting base." Any old flat something or other of about the right works. I've got some scrap metal plates, some old fantasy model bases, and even a piece of linoleum tile.

Now to the painting. (At last!)

Step 1: Apply a basecoat.

There are several ways you can basecoat a model, and I've begun to dabble with others at least occasionally, but most of the time I use black. It's a little bit more work to cover it and the colors look a little darker when you're done, but the shadows look great and it saves you the step of "black lining" around details later. (Though it's still good policy to touch up.)

Step 2: Add color.

This part varies a bit based on what color I used for my basecoat. If I'd used grey I'd apply a liberal black wash to settle into the cracks and create dark shadows. (For which I use a very watered down bottle of the same craft acrylic.) Call that Step 1.5, if you will. But with a black base, which works particularly well with schemes that are dark to begin with like the US Navy's ever popular MS-21, which just happens to be the color that Princeton wore in 1943 and how I chose to depict her, you can proceed directly to applying your basic colors.

With naval miniatures this is typically at least a two part process, since you'll want the deck and hull to be different colors. I usually start with the deck and paint the hull later, since it's often harder to get the deck color into the nooks and crannies without getting it on other vertical elements of the ship. I should also add that I like to use heavy brush strokes to simulate planking runs on decks. This turns about to be surprisingly effective. More on that later.

After you've painted your deck you can go back through and touch up the black on anything that's not deck. Once that's done you can start painting the smaller vertical bits. This will require a relatively fine brush, since you want to avoid getting non-deck colors on the deck. I like to leave a very small "shadow" line between my vertical color and my deck color. (Which is how I avoid "black lining" when I use a black basecoat.) I also tend to leave such "shadow lines" around important details, which helps to give the finished model a more defined appearance when viewed from normal table distances.

Larger surfaces, like the sides of the hull itself, can be painted with a larger brush. It's a little quicker and less brushy that way.

Step 2.5

Highlighting is a complicated subject, and I don't always do it the same way, but at this point you can begin to highlight if you wish. Alternately you can save it for the last step. If you choose to highlight at this point, you will want to use a lighter version of whatever your primary shade is. (A lighter blue to highlight navy blue, for instance.) And you will want to avoid highlighting the deck in the same color as the superstructure and hull. In this case, I didn't bother. I was perfectly content to leave the ship fairly dark and simply highlight everything by drybrusing at the end of the project. As I've begun to build more detailed models I've also begun to spend more time highlighting them, but this was a transitional project and the paint job was fairly simple If you want a nice "quick and dirty" gaming miniature this is a good example, but if you want a showpiece you might want to spend a little more time between step two and step three.

Step 3: Add markings.

Now there's some variation in how I execute the next step. This is the most usual order, but sometimes it's actually easier to paint these markings onto big flat decks before you paint the deck color. It depends a little on what you want to achieve. Recall that I tend to try to paint thickly and brushily on decks so that I can use the brush strokes to approximate planking runs. On Japanese carriers, where the planking runs run fore to aft it's quite easy to paint the markings first, touch them up, and then apply the deck color. (Leaving just a hint of a black line around the markings to make them stand out, as above.)

With American carriers, where the planking runs across the beam of the ship, I started painting the deck first and then adding the marks. I've since reexamined this, since it's been making the effect almost too pronounced. (Touching up adds another layer of brush strokes in some places, but not others.) Still, that's what I did in Princeton's case, and while not perfect, the result is good enough for my purposes.

This is also a good time to add black dots for portholes and bridge windows if you want to get that involved.

Step 4: Highlight and weather.

At this point I like to add a nice final highlight to draw everything together and give the ship a weathered appearance. For most ships I find that I can simply drybrush lightly with a very light grey. It will help to make the "shadow lines" look more subtle and less cartoonish. It also helps to hide places where the color isn't quite even. Finally, it helps to bring out small details like those brush stroke planking runs.

You want to be fairly light with this. When I've used it too liberally it looks like my ships have been caught in arctic storms. But on the other hand, some variation in a fleet isn't a bad thing. It helps to approximate different wear and weathering. Sometimes that MS-21 faded in the sun badly enough that when the Australians decided to paint things "Chicago Blue" they picked a much lighter color than the US Navy had actually painted Chicago in the first place. (Odd but true all you rivet counters and paint chippers.)

Step 5: Touch up and add final details.

And last but not least I go back and add a little black to really deep shadows (like "under" gun barrels cast onto a deck or openings into a hangar) or the tops of stacks that would be completely sooted up.

With Japanese ships I also take a moment to put a black dot onto the bow and a gold dot onto that to approximate the chrysanthemum on the bow. By putting the black dot on first it gives the gold dot a little definition, making it look more raised. (And one dot on top of the other actually does raise it just a little.) Of course the US wasn't really using figureheads by WWII, so there's no parallel to that in this case. But the finished result looks something like this:

In the background you can see Independence and a US destroyer being laid down. On the ways in front of them are, I believe, USS Chicago and another US destroyer. (Two Sims class destroyers? Possibly? Would be easier to tell if they were in focus.)

So there's a bit on the "quick and dirty" paint job. It's not the best example, since there's so very little color contrast, but hopefully you get the idea. I'll go into more elaborate methods at a later date.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Developments in 1:2400 part III

And to finish what was started in parts I, and II . . .

A few more conversions of models from Panzerschiffe and Viking Forge.

. . . or we add Germans and a Chinese "Cruiser" to the mix.

To start, the Germans.

These two are 1936A type destroyers marketed by Panzerschiffe as "Narvik" class. The trouble is that it seems completely random which class of German destroyers I get when I order them. Thankfully they're similar enough one can be turned into the other. Of course, the type varied considerably in armament and outfit, so conversion would be needed anyway. Z30, for instance, initially had only one 5.9" gun forward, and alone of all her sisters she had catwalks over the torpedoes. Z31 was more typical.

Shelesien was a particularly fun conversion. Panzerschiffe sells her in her WWI fit, so I had to essentially recreate the interwar overhaul trunking the two forward funnels together, removing casemate secondaries (and adding others), adding heavy boat cranes, and partially replacing the superstructure. In the end I'm pretty pleased with her.

And what German fleet is complete without a selection of type VII U-boats? Watch out. Between them these three; U-99, U-48, and U-47; accounted for 116 merchant ships, a capital ship, a sloop, and 3 auxiliaries for a total of 582,803 Gross Register Tons. They also damaged 13 other ships and took a prize. (Pretty impressive.)

This is the other class Panzerschiffe sells. (Though only one of them actually started as a member of that class.) That said, they look fine when you change them around a bit. These three are Z5 Paul Jakobi, Z8 Bruno Heinemann, and Z7 Hermann Schoemann.

Finally, Viking Forge sells this tiny little ship as Ioshima, but I decided to build her as Ning Hai. This was another rather poorly cast ship (some voids, uneven guns) but I was happy to have her, as she's a bit of an oddity. And the basic outline is fair enough to let you make a reasonable approximation of the ship. For present, this "cruiser" is my entire Chinese navy. (I suppose she did have six 6" guns, which isn't too shabby. But with low speed, virtually no armor, and such a limited displacement I'd hate to take her into battle against a Fletcher class destroyer, let alone a real cruiser. Still, she'd probably have been a decent enough coastal patrol craft, which was no doubt her intended role.

So anyway, there's a little bit of an update. We'll see if I can't be more regular about this in the future.

The Composer

New Developments in 1:2400 part II

Continuing from Part I . . .

Following those orders I'd been meaning to cool it for a while. I'd already bought quite a lot that month. (Ah, good intentions!) But a gaming store in St. Louis was liquidating the stock of another store that had folded, and my oh my did they have some ships. At quite a discount. Even factoring in gas money (not insubstantial) I was still able to get things at prices I've never seen before and will probably never see again. And I bought fancier stuff, too. Some GHQ. A little C in C. Even some Superior and Viking Forge. The VF models were older and pretty basic, but the Superior ships were surprisingly nice.

So here we go. First, a few Brits:

Here's my rendition of Superior's Hood.

The bow and stern were a little bent, but they straightened out more or less adequately. All in all, I'd say it's a nice model. It's a very good compromise between the fiddly delicate detail of GHQ or C in C and the simple ruggedness of Panzerschiffe.

GHQ's Prince of Wales is rather a case in point.

The ship is almost too busy to my eye, and the secondary armament is ludicrously delicate. The gun barrels were so badly bent I couldn't straighten enough of them, even with extras, and had to manufacture replacements for a few from sprue. (Which works fine. In the end I think the plastic actually makes better masts and gun barrels. And as a bonus it's much easier to work with.)

On the other hand, their "Illustrious" looks very nice.

Not really quite like an Illustrious, strangely, but lovely. So I tinkered with it a bit and used it for Implacable. (For present I think I might well buy GHQ carriers and escorts, but I suspect I'll tend to stick to Superior and C in C for the cruisers and wagons.)

Their Essex is quite simply magnificent.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, given PoW) this one was missing its 5"/38s, so I made them from stock. I also added the homing beacon, tinkered with the radar a little, and cut open the hanger.

This pair started out as Viking Forge's Vestal.

Their Vestal isn't a bad model, but it was in her fit from the 20s, so I stripped her more or less down to the hull and started over. I used the second one as USS Harry Lee, which was about the right size and shape.

Here's another GHQ offering:

Their flowers are quite lovely. They're busy little ships, to be sure, and the mold was misaligned on at least one of them, but not so badly it couldn't be fixed. And of course, as always, I find you need to add the masts. (To my eye no ship looks right without them.) But once detailed and painted my heavens but aren't they pretty? I love tinkering, but I'd never in my wildest dreams be able to carve such a nice ship. These three approximate Dianthus, Clematis, and Asphodel.

Here's an interesting exercise in comparison.

From left to right these represent Princeton, Belleau Wood, and San Jacinto. They also represent three different companies interpretations of an Independence class carrier. Again, from left to right: Panzerschiffe, Viking Forge, and C in C. The Viking Forge ship was a particularly rough casting requiring a lot of TLC. I added the 40s and truss masts to both the former ships. The VF offering also required me to remove some very poorly cast detail. (The gun tubs for the 40s were pretty misshapen, the "quad 40s" cast onto the bow and stern looked like, well, I don't really know what. Not like quad mounts, anyway.) All the C in C ship required was the radar fit. The tubs aren't arranged quite correctly for San Jacnito, at least, but it was otherwise pretty enough that I left it alone.

Which brings me back to a very nice Superior ship. Even though I've already got a pretty tolerable Soryu, I can rarely resist a carrier model. I figured I'd use this one to make an Unryu, which is about the same size as Soryu. (Not surprising, since they were a development of Hiryu, which was herself a modified Soryu.) I settled on Katsuragi. When you buy models at fire sale prices you take it for granted that pieces will be missing. This one had no island. Fortunately I had a spare Kaga island I could kidnap. (It's not quite right, but it will do.) Some hacking and slashing of gun tubs, a little green stuff, and some sprue later and I ended up with this . . .

From meatballs back to pasta and another comparison . . .

(Yeah, I know. No Hinomaru to be seen. Still, it's the idea of the thing.)

Recall that I said the Superior battleships seem like the nicest ones to me. (So far anyway.) Well, that impression is partly from a very nice Littorio. Yes, the guns are a little oversized, but at 1:2400 that's not a bad thing. And casting the secondaries onto the deck is probably the right way to go. Anyway, what with such a lovely Littorio, my earlier Vittorio Veneto needed updating. Ive decided that I can, in fact, add anchors, breakwaters, and anchor chain.

And last but not least in this section (II of III) is a small Italian seaplane tender named Giuseppe Miraglia. This is another Viking Forge offering given the once over. It was a clean enough model, but a little simple. And again, the fit wasn't quite right for WWII. So I spruced it up a bit. I'll try to go into more detail on some of the conversions at a later date, but here's the finished product:

Concluded in Part III.

New Developments in 1:2400 part I

It's been far too long since last I wrote and I think it's time to make up for that. I had planned to write more about painting, scratchbuilding, detailing, and conversion. I still hope to. But first, there seem to be whole squadrons of new ships in my navy. A whole new fleet, really. So for now, I'll show off some of the new work.

Last fall I placed several significant orders: one from C in C and two from Panzerschiffe. Oddly, Panzerschiffe shipped the second order twice, but when I enquired, they didn't want the extras back, so I ended up with a nice bonus. (Including an extra Independence, an extra Trento, an extra German pre-dread, and quite a variety of other extras.)

To get started, here are a few of the C in C models:

Copahee and Sangamon.

I rather like these two CVEs. I find I want to add detail to all models, and these are no exception, but they're pretty nice little ships to begin with. Cleanly cast and fairly crisp. The alignment pins between the hull and the deck on the Sangamon place the deck forward of the columns on the fantail, but you can easily file them off and you don't really need them anyway.

A Convoy Gathers in Halifax.

These two lovely little freighters are the C in C "tramp steamer." (With some older friends to give the convoy some weight.) I can't really find the prototype, so I've simply approximated two British freighters of about the right size: (front to back) SS Boma and MV Assyria. The hulls aren't quite right, and I've no idea what camouflage they would actually have worn during the war, but my merchies needed some color and the masts are at least close. Also visible are SS Mahseer (entering the harbor), and the sterns of (front to back) HMS Petroleum, MV Imperial Star, and SS British Mariner.

Included in the Panzerschiffe orders were some of these Jim Dandies:

HMS Maidstone with Trident and Turbulent.

(You might note the slightly differing external torpedo tubes I added to the two submarines.)

HMS Audacity.

USS Langley.

People have a lot of complaints about Panzerschiffe, but they're a easy to work with, a lot of fun to detail, and quite a bit more durable than anything else out there. As pure gaming miniatures they're about perfect, but I can never leave well enough alone, so I turn them into fiddly delicate things anyway. (A little plastic sprue goes a long way to making even the most robust model quite breakable.)

Here are a few more of the Panzerschiffe I painted or updated earlier this year:

First, a squadron of Soldati: Alpino, Carabiniere, and Bersagliere.

Two subs: Barbarigo and Comandante Cappellini.

Two Trento class cruisers: Trento and Trieste

And a nice big Japanese carrier: Taiho.

Continued in Part II.